Pearl River, which won the 2004 NJCAA national championship, has won three straight MACJC titles bringing its total of state championships to an unprecedented 18 among Mississippi community colleges.
The Wildcats finished their Hurricane Katrina-shortened 2005 season with an 8-1 record and was third in last year's final poll behind Glendale (Ariz.) CC and Georgia Military College. Glendale defeated Grand Rapids (Mich.) CC 50-48 in the Valley of the Sun Bowl in Phoenix, Ariz., last December to earn its national title; while PRCC was snubbed by the post-season bowls in 2005.
Three other MACJC teams are in this year's preseason Top 25 poll, including No. 7 Mississippi Gulf Coast, No. 17 Northeast Mississippi, and No. 25 Hinds.
Pearl River defeated Gulf Coast 25-19 for the state title last year after the Bulldogs pulled out a high-scoring 55-47 victory in the regular season, snapping a record 23-game winning streak by the Wildcats. PRCC pulled off a last-minute touchdown to defeat Northeast 27-20 in the first round of the 2005 playoffs to earn its berth in the championship bout.
Gulf Coast finished 7-3 a year ago, while Northeast Mississippi finished 7-2 and Hinds 3-4. Northwest Mississippi received votes in the balloting after finishing 1-6 in 2005. Gulf Coast and Northeast both copped bowl berths a year ago with the Bulldogs falling to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M 21-19 in the Dalton Defenders Bowl in Coffeyville, Kan.; and the Tigers falling 24-14 to Trinity Valley (Tex.) CC in the Pilgrim's Pride Bowl Classic in Mt. Pleasant, Tex..
Wildcat head coach Tim Hatten, a former PRCC wide receiver, is 37-5 in his first four seasons at Pearl River, including a 30-2 mark the past three years.
"We've only lost two games in our 32 games over the past three years and the chances are good that we will be that caliber of a team again this year," said Hatten. "We're looking forward to getting things going."
Pearl River kicks off its 2006 season Thursday, Aug. 31, against non-division rival Mississippi Delta on the road in Moorhead. The Wildcats enter the season with five NJCAA preseason All-American picks, including defensive back Gene Anderson, wide receiver Demetrius Byrd, defensive end Brian Keith Coulter, offensive lineman Ken Evans, and linebacker Donte Spires.